While the young woman who complained of lurid texts and wandering hands now sits at home on unpaid leave, her accused harasser sails serenely on. He continues to escape disgrace at his TERI research institute as probers drag their heels and the Western media looks the other way
Dr Rajendra Pachauri,until this February the world’s top climate bureaucrat, continues to operate at the helm of Delhi think-tank The Energy & Resources Institute (TERI), with no announcement that he has resigned or been dismissed. There’s even speculation now that he might make a comeback in some new role at the United Nations.
In February, Pachauri, 75, was hit with a sexual harassment complaint by a 29-year-old TERI analyst, who provided police with more than 5000 incriminating texts stretching back to her first weeks at TERI in 2013. She also alleged he had assaulted her sexually and that, having repeatedly resisted his advances, Pachauri finally removed her from productive work.
On July 23, five months later, the TERI council issued a press release saying Pachauri would be replaced by government bureaucrat Dr Ajay Mathur. But Mathur will take several months to wrap up his existing position, and the council declines to say whether Pachauri will continue in office till his successor arrives.
One facet of the affair is the resolute insistence of mainstream Western media, including Australia’s, to ignore the continuing Pachauri saga, presumably because it distracts from the “save the planet” messages that will be the theme of the Paris climate summit in December. In any other context, the combination of sex, scandal and power would have an editor slavering.
Another aspect of the scandal is how India’s power elite fails to act vigorously when one of its own is caught out. Like an octopus, it has retreated in a cloud of murk.
Pachauri in February resigned abruptly from his twelve-year chairmanship of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and other international positions, while clinging to his director-general post at TERI where the governing council obligingly permitted him to take leave from the job, rather than suspending him — standard corporate governance — until the charges were resolved.
Since then he has been fighting police charges of sexual harassment, stalking and and molestation which carry penalties of up to seven years in jail. Pachauri improbably claimed that cyber criminals hacked all his devices and forged all the texts.
The worst aspect is that the woman complainant has been hung out to dry. In May she was downgraded to a TERI office at another site, for a role unsuited to her qualifications. She left work on unpaid leave and has been at home two months without pay.
Consulting editor for the Economic Times, Dr Swaminathan Alyard, appears to have provoked the council into its belated action to replace Pachauri. Alyard wrote on July 22,
“Police investigations and trials take forever in India. Virtually no famous or resourceful person is convicted beyond all appeals. Probably Pachauri will die of old age before the cases against him reach final conclusion. But pending his trial, why has he not been suspended by Teri? Why have distinguished Teri board members not declared that enough is enough? Why have they given him so much rope that he can use it to hang others?”
Alyard said other females at TERI have complained of harassment by Pachauri, dating back to a decade ago. He wrote,
“They have put up with it for years since they find it difficult to take on a man who is so famous and has so many powerful friends, and can destroy their careers if they go public with their accusations. Well, it is high time the famous and powerful were exposed, denounced and ostracised.”
Pachauri, Alyard said, is guilty of “gender terrorism, plain and simple”, adding
“Such terrorism has long been imposed by famous, powerful men on powerless juniors. It’s time the gender terrorists got their comeuppance. Board members must denounce Pachauri, suspend him immediately, and oust him by due process.”
But wait, let’s first take another look at his February resignation from the IPCC in February. Considering the ugly context of that resignation, why on July 15, 2015 did the IPCC itself post on its site a video of Pachauri singing his own and the IPCC’s praises? Look at it here
His opening words: “I am Rajendra Pachauri, I am chairman of the IPCC.” Bizarre. He concludes the clip: “The significance of this whole exercise [5th report] is so elevating , so important, if you are part of it, it can’t fail to enthuse you, that is what keeps me going and what I enjoy doing.”
Given the hypersensitivities surrounding Pachauri, this uploaded IPCC promotional clip suggests backstage machinations, as my estimable Canadian colleague Hilary Ostrov has noted in suggesting Pachauri might have been planning a comeback at the UN in some new role – he’s long been the darling of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and numerous basket-case states like the Maldives that are seeking “climate compensation” from the West. (For an update, see Tony Thomas’ comment at the end of the story.)
Ostrov points out that on July 15 Pachauri was in the US for his brother-in-law’s funeral (an Indian court had lifted a travel ban to permit this trip). Two days later another court permitted him to return from leave to TERI, which he promptly did without any counter-action by TERI’s council.
On the same July 17, his PR company, New Delhi-based Lexicon Public Relations — hired by him to handle the PR angle of his harassment defence, issued a gushing press release on his behalf. It included such gems as
“I particularly look forward to further strengthening a culture at TERI that encourages excellence, recognises and rewards merit and ensures a safe and secure workplace that is sensitive to human values and dignity, particularly in respect to gender and social class…Together we can act as an agent of change for the benefit of humanity.”
A mere week later, Lexicon – now somehow speaking on TERI’s behalf, rather than Pachauri’s – put out the highly spun announcement that Pachauri would be replaced by Mathur as soon as the latter could finish up at his government office.
Double bizarre! How is that TERI, whose own complaints committee indicted Pachauri and called for disciplinary action, is using the same PR outfit that Pachauri hired personally?
Some backgrounding about TERI seems called for. Pachauri has led TERI for more than 30 years and became synonymous with it. TERI is a big and global player among research institutes, with 1200 staff and offices extending to London, Tokyo, Washington and Utrecht – and links with CSIRO, Deakin, UWA, Monash, Melbourne and QIT universities. UNSW awarded him an Honorary Doctor of Science in 2008. TERI is funded largely by grants from partners that include NGOs, governments, banks, and universities. It hass been showered with awards including a Strategic Partner Award from Victoria’s Deakin University last November.
The 10-member TERI governing council, of which Pachauri is a member, includes
- Billionnaire Dr Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, founder of global biotech company Biocon (turnover $US490m). She is ranked by Forbes as worth $US972m and number 85 among the world’s top 100 powerful women.[i]
- Naina Lal Kidwai, Indian head of HSBC bank and a board member of Nestle SA. She was the first female president of the Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry and regularly ranks among the world’s top business women.
- Mr Deepak Parekh, chairman of India’s biggest housing financier HDFC, with $US40b in loans. He is a prominent crisis adviser to the Indian government, and “known as a statesman and the voice of corporate India.”
- Investment banker Mr Hemendra Kothari, worth about $US700m and descendant of a founder of the Bombay Stock Exchange.
The passivity of the council in the February-July period is noteworthy.
As Dr Alwar wrote in the Economic Times
“Naina Lal Kidwai, you have won awards for defying gender biases to get to the top of HSBC, one of India’s biggest banks in India. Why are you not lashing out against a man who typifies male terrorism? Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, you are famous as India’s top female entrepreneur. You must know how prevalent male harassment is in Indian business. Why are you not screaming your head off in this case? Deepak Parekh, you have long epitomised ethics and corporate responsibility. Why are you silent? It’s time to go on the warpath.”
TERI also has a 19-member advisory board of heavyweights such as the Indian Ambassador to Belgium and the Chairman of the National Statistical Commission. Such advisors should have generated a better outcome.
In May the internal complaints committee of TERI upheld the woman’s harassment complaints and recommended disciplinary action against Pachauri and compensation for the woman. This led to no action or public comment by the council. A Delhi industrial tribunal a few days later ordered that the findings be stayed on the ground that Pachauri had not been afforded natural justice. The stay now extends to September 9.
The courts had initially barred him from returning to TERI but another court lifted the ban, which was ineffective since TERI people could visit his home at will. He was back in his office on July 17 and making significant changes, such as downgrading a TERI university vice-chancellor to emeritus professor.
The woman complainant told the media that because of the council’s “silence and inaction”, Pachauri had been “welcomed back to his office with garlands and flowers, while I am being shunted out of work”. She told NDTV
“It’s scary to take note of [TERI council’s] silence and inaction because, from what I used to hear, in the corporate world, on a complaint of such a nature, action is taken swiftly and at times overnight”
She says her ordeal has been exacerbated by insensitive and numerous lapses, including her Facebook photos being given to the police by TERI without her permission.
Outraged staff petitioned the council against Pachauri’s return. The council also came under heavy fire in the Indian media. The result was the July 23 Lexicon press statement from TERI, which included almost laughable attempts to dodge the real issue of the accusations against Pachauri. The council said it was “certain” that staff would support Mathur and the transition – a curious wording. It then segued into the harassment imbroglio, saying,
“The Council also considered the question of any action that could be taken on the report of the Internal Complaints Committee at TERI on the issue of alleged sexual harassment. Action on this report has been stayed by the Court, which ruled ‘The operation of the report of the Internal Complaints Committee shall remain stayed.’ This judgment of May 29, 2015 also stated ‘The principles of natural justice have not been followed at all by the said Committee, contrary to Rules.’ The Council respects all court proceedings and abides by its direction.
“The interests of TERI and its talented staff are paramount .The members of the [council] expressed deep confidence in the dedication of TERI staff, and the leadership of the Institute which has brought this organization to a level of excellence and effectiveness…”
Prominent lawyer Vrinda Grover responded the next day in The Hindu:
“The governing council has abdicated its responsibility in the matter and has sought to mask the removal of Pachauri as part of an ongoing process of appointing a new DG. This is misleading and undermines the gravity of the problem… Even if leading lights of the corporate world, including women leaders, are in the council, if you are their friend, you will be shielded, no matter what your offence.”
The Indian police tend to treat high-profile suspects with kid gloves and courts have complained the prosecution was proceeding at ‘a snail’s pace’. For example, police this month broke off their third interview with Pachauri (involving responses to around 50 specifics provided by the young woman) on the ground of the poor chap’s “advanced age”.[ii]
The annual report section on TERI’s Human Resources division includes a role ensuring “smooth induction of new employees” and “strategies to keep employees happy and engaged” – ironic given the young woman’s complaint that Director-General Pachauri began sexual overtures to her within seven days of her recruitment.
Pachauri’s (eventual) successor Ajay Mathur says elliptically:
“TERI is a great institution but it needs to be strengthened. The emphasis (will be on) to ensure people can work and deliver without having to worry about other issues.”
As for TERI’s scientific stature, I’ll just quote this nonsense from its website: “The warming of the earth’s surface has highly adverse consequences for all life forms on the planet.”
Tony Thomas blogs at No BS Here (I Hope)